As I mentioned in my post last week, I spent my Memorial Day weekend competing in the 4th Annual Cherry Blossom Classic to help me prepare for the US Junior Open. I scored 3/7 and lost a couple rating points, but I thought I learned a lot this week – not just about chess, but about how psychology factors into the game as well.
For those of you who have watched my Chess^Summit videos, you may recall I opened last year’s Cherry Blossom Classic with my best career win at the time against WFM and US Women’s Championship contender Jennifer Yu. This year, I had a little deja vu on the opening night, beating a 2355 rated opponent in an arguably equal position.
Jacobson – Steincamp
In this moment, it’s critical that I play accurately to maintain an equal position. For example, if I had tried 22… Rab8, I would be violating my first Endgame Essentials principle in not having active play. White would enjoy a nice position, perhaps playing Rf1-e1-e4 with the idea of playing f4-f5 and breaking open my kingside. So I gave my opponent the b7 pawn in exchange for a rook on the 7th rank. 22…Rae8! 23.Rxb7 Re2
Visually, we can already see how White’s material advantage is temporary, with c2 and d5 both weak. I’m not out of the woods, but I’m one step closer to proving equality. 24.Qg3 Qe4
I wanted to play here before playing 24…Qxc2 since I have the immediate idea of …Re2-e3, indirectly attacking the h3 pawn. White would be tied up and I could take the more valuable d5 pawn instead of the pawn on c2. Furthermore, 24…Qxc2 25. f5! and I’m not happy letting this pawn reach f6 with mating ideas and an outpost on e7 for White’s rooks. My insertion more or less forces 25.Qf3 but now I can play 25…Qxc2 because I can meet 26.f5 with gxf5!
This move more or less forces an equal rook endgame after trades on f5 because my rooks can easily hit both d5 and b2. But what about 27.Qg3+? Doesn’t this win a pawn and the game after 27…Kh8 28.Qxd6?
Can you find the saving move that gives Black the initiative? I’ll give you a hint – the theme is activity and counterplay!
Completely ignoring the hanging rook, because 29.Qxf8+ Rg8! forces White to give up the queen since the mate threat on g2 is unstoppable otherwise.
I think White still has to prove equality. I guess there’s two morals to this game: 1) always look for forcing moves, but more importantly 2) if the position is drawn, don’t play with fire. My opponent, just like Jennifer last year, refused to draw simply because I was lower rated. I guess some things never change.
However, after this first game, I struggled to maintain the momentum, ultimately blowing a completely won position against a 2300+ rated player in a rather embarrassing fashion in the fourth round, then drawing my way out to finish at 3/7.
There weren’t many particular dazzling moments in this tournament when compared to my victory in New York last week, but there was one particularly historic game for me personally:
Round 6: Steincamp–Li
Back in March, I shared a game I played against Beilin Li, a friend of mine from Carnegie Mellon. Only a few weeks after that game, we played again with opposite color, but this time, he came prepared and outsmarted me in a Closed Sicilian. I doubt I’ll ever play Beilin again outside of Pittsburgh, but since we were rooming together and playing in the same section this tournament, we certainly made it possible.
Still recovering from the aforementioned loss, I didn’t want to play a game based off of preparation against a tactically astute player, so I decided to improvise and go for a more intuitive set-up, forcing Beilin to show me what he knows outside of the Closed Sicilian set-up. 1. Nf3
Stopping 1… e5 and getting ready for an English. When I realized I was going to play him a second time back in April, I had prepared this to get Beilin out of his comfort zone. Maybe he was a little surprised, but if he followed my games, he’d know that the last time I didn’t open a game with 1 c4 was back in 2009 when I was only 1300! But Beilin was smart and chose 1…g6
Still thinking I would play 2. c4, Beilin prepared to delay any central commitment by fianchettoing his kingside. If I opt for an English, Beilin could transpose into a Reversed Sicilian still unless I wanted to make him play a King’s Indian. Again, on this particular morning, I didn’t want anything sharp and made the real surprise move.
2. e4! Ironically, I had this position as Black the night before, but the difference is that if Beilin had continued 2… c5 I know the Hyper-Accelerated Dragon as Black and he doesn’t – a theoretical advantage if you will. So Beilin opted for a Pirc and played well to hold a draw. The game didn’t hold much intrigue for spectators (that knew me at least) outside of the first two moves.
While Beilin had a rough tournament this weekend, I suspect he’ll be one of my most challenging opponents in Pittsburgh for years to come. While we may be “rivals” over the chess board, we’re close friends, which is why I’m pleased to announce that after the US Junior Open, I’ll be adding Beilin along with a few other talented authors to Chess^Summit (more about this later)! Beilin writes a lot of great material on chess.com, and you can check out some of his articles here!
So what can I say about my own performance this weekend? Compared to last year, this was a much more difficult event. Six of my seven games were determined in the endgame, and by the end of the tournament, I had spent nearly 30 hours at the chess board! While it’s clear that I still need to work on my calculation between now and the US Junior Open, I think there are some positives I can take away from this tournament. First, since my trip to New York, I’ve gone seven straight games with Black unbeaten, scoring four wins in that stretch. Secondly, the time controls were the same as those in New York, and this time around, my time management was significantly better, and often I found myself pushing my opponent’s into some form of time trouble. Lastly, even though I only scored 1/3 against higher rated players, I was extremely close to beating two 2300s in one weekend (I had only beaten one going into the weekend). With the right preparation and discipline, I think I can beat these guys – which is what it’s going to take to win the US Junior Open in three weeks.
Next week is my last preparatory event for the US Junior Open, and I’ll be traveling to Charlotte for the Carolinas Classic. I’m currently in the middle of the Championship section, and I’m looking forward to a chance for redemption!